Territory of the Military Commander in Serbia
|Territory of the Military Commander in Serbia
Gebiet des Militärbefehlshabers in Serbien
|Territory under German military administration|
The Territory of the Military Commander in Serbia within Europe, circa 1942.
|-||1941||Ludwig von Schröder|
|Prime Minister (of puppet government)|
|Historical era||World War II|
|-||Established||22 April 1941|
|-||Territory liberated||20 October 1944|
Reich credit note
|Today part of|| Serbia
|a.||Supervisory administration with puppet government installed.|
|Part of a series on the|
|History of Serbia|
|Serbia since 1918|
The Territory of the Military Commander in Serbia (German: Gebiet des Militärbefehlshabers in Serbien) was the area of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia that was placed under a military government of occupation by the Wehrmacht following the invasion, occupation and dismantling of Yugoslavia in April 1941. The territory included Serbia proper, with the addition of the northern part of Kosovo (around Kosovska Mitrovica), and the Banat. This territory was the only area of the partitioned Kingdom of Yugoslavia in which the German occupants established a military government. This was due to the key rail and riverine transport routes that passed through it, and its valuable resources, particularly non-ferrous metals. On 22 April 1941, the territory was placed under the supreme authority of the German military commander in Serbia, which included a series of generals, with the day-to-day administration of the territory under the control of the chief of the Military Administration in Serbia. Initially, the chief of the military administration in Serbia was Harald Turner and later Franz Neuhausen. The lines of command and control in the occupied territory were never unified, and were made more complex by the appointment of direct representatives of senior Nazis such as Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler (for SS and police matters) and Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring (for economic matters). The Germans used Bulgarian troops to assist in the occupation, but they were at all times under German control. Some sources describe the territory as a puppet state, or a "special administrative province", with other sources describing it as having a puppet government.
The Military Commander in Serbia appointed the Serbian civil puppet governments to "carry on administrative chores under German direction and supervision". The first of these was the short-lived Commissioner Administration (Комесарска влада, Komesarska vlada) which was established under Milan Aćimović on 30 May 1941. The Military Commander in Serbia "appointed a low-grade Serbian administration of ten commissioners who were put in charge of the ministries, under the control of Turner and Neuhausen, as a simple instrument of the occupation regime", that "lacked any semblance of power". It was followed by the establishment of the Government of National Salvation (Влада Националног Спаса, Vlada Nacionalnog Spasa) under Milan Nedić, which replaced the Commissioner Administration on 29 August 1941. According to historian Professor Stevan K. Pavlowitch, the Nedić regime itself "had no status under international law, and no power beyond that delegated by the Germans", and "was simply an auxiliary organ of the German occupation regime". The one area in which the regime did exercise initiative and achieve success was in the reception and care of hundreds of thousands of Serb refugees from other parts of partitioned Yugoslavia. While the Aćimović administration was limited to the use of the former Yugoslav gendarmerie, the Nedić government was authorised to raise an armed force, the Serbian State Guard, to impose order, but they essentially functioned as German auxiliaries until the German withdrawal in October 1944. The Germans also raised several other local auxiliary forces for various purposes within the territory. The Government of National Salvation remained in place until the German withdrawal. Throughout the occupation, the Banat was an autonomous region, formally responsible to the puppet governments in Belgrade, but in practice governed by its Volksdeutsche (ethnic German) minority. In order to secure the Trepča mines and the Belgrade-Skopje railway, the Germans made an arrangement with Albanian collaborators in the northern tip of present-day Kosovo which resulted in the effective autonomy of the region from the puppet government in Belgrade, which later formalized the German arrangement.
- 1 Names
- 2 History
- 2.1 Invasion and partition
- 2.2 Establishment of the military government of occupation
- 2.3 Establishment of the Commissioner Administration
- 2.4 Initial occupation troops
- 2.5 Difficulties of the Aćimović administration
- 2.6 Resistance begins
- 2.7 Formation of the Government of National Salvation
- 2.8 Initial occupation
- 2.9 Conflicts with the resistance
- 2.10 Collapse
- 3 Geography
- 4 Administration
- 5 Military
- 6 Demographics
- 7 Economy
- 8 Culture
- 9 Racial persecution
- 10 Legacy
- 11 See also
- 12 Notes
- 13 References
- 14 External links
While the official name of the territory was Territory of the Military Commander in Serbia, sources refer to it using a wide variety of terms.
- a German-controlled territory
- A rump Serbian state
- a so-called German protectorate
- German-occupied Serbia
- Nedić's Serbia (Nedićeva Srbija, Недићева Србија)
- Serbia (Srbija, Србија)
- Serbia proper
- Serbia under German military administration
- Serbia under German occupation (Srbija pod nemačkom okupacijom, Србија под немачком окупацијом)
- Serbian residual state
- a special "German-protected area"
Invasion and partition
In April 1941, Germany and its allies invaded and occupied Yugoslavia. The Kingdom of Yugoslavia was then partitioned. Some Yugoslav territory was annexed by its Axis neighbors, Germany, Hungary, Bulgaria and Italy. The Germans engineered and supported the creation of the new puppet state, the Independent State of Croatia (NDH), which roughly comprised most of the pre-war Banovina Croatia, along with rest of present-day Bosnia and Herzegovina and some adjacent territory. The Italians, Hungarians and Bulgarians occupied other parts of Yugoslavian territory. Germany occupied northern parts of present-day Slovenia and northern parts of the Independent State of Croatia. The German-occupied part of present-day Slovenia was annexed by Germany and was divided into two administrative areas that were placed under the administration of Gauleiters in Austria. The remaining territory, which consisted of Serbia proper, the northern part of Kosovo (around Kosovska Mitrovica), and the Banat was placed under a German government of military occupation and military administration.
Establishment of the military government of occupation
Even before the Yugoslav surrender, the German Army High Command had issued a proclamation to the population under German occupation, detailing laws that applied to all German-occupied territory. When the Germans withdrew from the Yugoslav territory that was annexed or occupied by their Axis partners, these laws applied only to the German-occupied part of modern-day Slovenia and the territory organised by the Germans as Serbia. This latter territory 'was occupied outright by German troops and was placed under a military government'. The exact boundaries of the occupied territory were fixed in a directive issued by Adolf Hitler on 12 April 1941, which also directed the creation of the military administration. This directive was followed up on 20 April 1941 by orders issued by the Chief of the German Army High Command which established the Military Commander in Serbia as the head of the occupation regime, responsible to the quartermaster-general of the Army High Command. In the interim the staff for the military government had been assembled in Germany and the duties of the Military Commander in Serbia had been detailed. These included 'safeguarding the railroad lines between Belgrade and Salonika and the Danube shipping route, executing the economic orders issued (by Göring), and establishing and maintaining peace and order. In order to achieve this his staff was divided into military and administrative branches, and he was allocated personnel to form four area commands and about ten district commands. Each district command was allocated a local defence battalion, and he was also allocated a police contingent. The first Military Commander in Serbia was General der Flieger (General of Aviators) Helmuth Förster, a Luftwaffe officer, appointed on 20 April 1941,assisted by the chief of the Military Administration in Serbia, SS-Brigadeführer Dr. Harald Turner.
The proclamations of the Chief of the German Army High Command in April ordered severe punishments for acts of violence or sabotage, the surrender of all weapons and radio transmitters, restrictions on communication, meetings and protests, and the requirement for German currency to be accepted, as well as imposing German criminal law on the territory.
Establishment of the Commissioner Administration
Hitler had briefly considered erasing all existence of a Serbian state, but this was quickly abandoned and a search began for a suitable Serb to lead a collaborationist regime. After considering former Yugoslav Prime Minister Dragiša Cvetković, former Yugoslav Foreign Minister Aleksander Cincar-Marković, former Yugoslav Minister of Internal Affairs Milan Aćimović, the president of the 'quasi-fascist' Zbor movement Dimitrije Ljotić and the Belgrade police chief Dragomir Jovanović, the Military Commander in Serbia decided on Aćimović, who formed his Commissioner Administration on 30 April 1941, consisting of ten commissioners. They avoided Ljotić as they believed he had a 'dubious reputation among Serbs'. Aćimović was virulently anti-communist and had been in contact with the German police before the war.> He was sworn into office in late May. The other nine commissioners were Steven Ivanić, Momčilo Janković, Risto Jojić, Stanislav Josifović, Lazo M. Kostić, Dušan Letica, Dušan Pantić, Jevrem Protić and Milisav Vasiljević, and one commissioner was in charge of each of the former Yugoslav ministries except the Ministry of Army and Navy which was abolished. Several of the commissioners had held ministerial posts in the pre-war Yugoslav government, and Ivanić and Vasiljević were both closely linked to Zbor. One of the first tasks of the administration was to carry out Turner's orders for the registration of 'all Jews and Gypsies' in the occupied territory and implementation of severe restrictions on their activities. While the implementation of these orders was supervised by the German military government, Aćimović and his interior ministry were responsible for carrying them out.
During May 1941, Förster issued numerous orders, which included a requirement for the registration of all printing equipment, restrictions on the press, operation of theatres and other places of entertainment, and the resumption of production. He also disestablished the National Bank of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, and established the Serbian National Bank to replace it. Förster was subsequently transferred, and on 2 June was succeeded as Military Commander in Serbia by General der Flakartillerie Ludwig von Schröder, another Luftwaffe officer.
In mid-May, Aćimović's administration issued a declaration to the effect that the Serbian people wanted 'sincere and loyal cooperation with their great neighbor, the German people'. Most of the local administrators in the counties and districts remained in place, and the German military administration placed its own administrators at each level to supervise the local authorities.
Initial occupation troops
In addition to very limited local defence and police forces allocated to the Military Commander in Serbia, in early June 1941 the Wehrmacht initially deployed the Higher Command for Special Purposes LXV to Belgrade to command four poorly equipped garrison divisions, under the control of General der Artillerie (Lieutenant General) Paul Bader. The 704th Infantry Division, 714th Infantry Division and 717th Infantry Division were deployed in the occupied territory, and the 718th Infantry Division was deployed in the adjacent parts of the NDH. The status of Bader's command was that the Military Commander in Serbia could order Bader to undertake operations against rebels, but he could not otherwise act as Bader's superior.
Difficulties of the Aćimović administration
While the commissioners were quite experienced in their portfolio areas or in politics or public administration generally, the Aćimović administration itself was in an extremely difficult position because it lacked any semblance of power. The three main tasks of the Aćimović administration were to secure the acquiescence of the population to the German occupation, help restore services, and 'identify and remove undesirables from public services'. Refugees fleeing persecution in the Independent State of Croatia had began to flood into the territory before the Aćimović administration had even been established.
In late June 1941, the Aćimović administration issued an ordinance regarding the administration of the Banat which essentially made the region a separate civil administrative unit under the control of the local Volksdeutsche under the leadership of Sepp Janko. While the Banat was formally under the jurisdiction of the Aćimović administration, in practical terms it was largely autonomous of Belgrade and under the control of the military government through the military district command in Pančevo.
In early July 1941, the commencement of armed resistance against both the Germans and the Aćimović authorities quickly precipitated a crisis. Led by the communists, the resistance began to attract some Serb nationalists, while other Serb nationalists under Draža Mihailović prepared to take action when the opportunity presented. Starting with attacks on district administrative buildings and police stations, the rebels soon escalated their actions into attacks on mines and railway stations vital to the German war effort. The Aćimović administration, with only the former Yugoslav gendarmerie available to fight the resistance, suffered 246 attacks between 1 July and 15 August, killing 82 rebels for the loss of 26. The Germans began shooting hostages and burning villages in response to attacks. In mid-July, Mihailović sent emissaries to Ljotić and Aćimović to ensure they were aware his forces had nothing to do with 'communist terror'. The Germans then encouraged Aćimović to make an arrangement with Mihailović, but Mihailović refused. Nevertheless, neither the Germans nor Aćimović took effective steps against Mihailović during the summer. Also in July, the German military government ordered the Jewish community representatives to supply 40 hostages each week who would be executed as reprisals for attacks on the Wehrmacht and German police. Subsequently, when reprisal killings of hostages were announced, most referred to the killing of 'communists and Jews'.
In late July, when the new German Military Commander in Serbia, General der Flieger Heinrich Danckelmann, was unable to obtain more German troops or police to suppress the revolt, he had to consider every option available. As Danckelmann had been told to utilise available forces as ruthlessly as possible, Turner suggested that Danckelmann strengthen the Aćimović administration so that it might subdue the rebellion itself. The Germans considered the Aćimović administration incompetent and by mid-July were already discussing replacing Aćimović.
In response to the revolt, hundreds of prominent and influential Serbs signed an 'Appeal to the Serbian Nation' which was published in major Belgrade newspapers on 11 August. The appeal called upon the Serbian population to help the authorities in every way in their struggle against the communist rebels, and called for loyalty to the Nazis and condemned the Partisan resistance as unpatriotic. Aćimović also gave orders that the wives of communists and their sons older than 16 years of age be arrested and held, and the Germans burned their houses and imposed curfews.
On the same day Danckelmann, unable to obtain reinforcements from elsewhere, ordered General Bader to put down the revolt, and two days later Bader issued orders to that effect. However, the three weak garrison divisions were unable to stop the spread of the rebellion. The Aćimović administration appealed for rebels to return to their homes and announced bounties for the killing of rebels and their leaders.
To strengthen the puppet government, Danckelmann had to find a Serb who was both well-known and highly regarded by the population who could raise some sort of Serbian armed force and who would be willing to use it ruthlessly against the rebels whilst remaining under full German control. These ideas ultimately resulted in the resignation of the entire Aćimović administration at the end of August 1941, and its replacement with the Government of National Salvation under General Milan Nedić.
Formation of the Government of National Salvation
In response to a request by Envoy Felix Benzler, the representative of the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs appointed to assist Danckelmann, the Ministry sent SS-Standartenführer Edmund Veesenmayer to provide assistance in establishing a new puppet government that would meet German requirements. Five months earlier, Veesenmayer had engineered the proclamation of the Independent State of Croatia. Veesenmayer engaged in a series of consultations with German commanders and officials in Belgrade, interviewed a number of possible candidates to lead the new puppet government, then selected General Milan Nedić as the best available. The Germans had to apply significant pressure to Nedić to encourage him to accept the position, including threats to bring Bulgarian and Hungarian troops into the occupied territory and to send him to Germany as a prisoner of war. Unlike most Yugoslav generals, Nedić had not been interned in Germany after the capitulation, but instead had been placed under house arrest in Belgrade.
On 27 August 1941, about seventy-five prominent Serbs convened a meeting in Belgrade where they resolved that Nedić should form a Government of National Salvation to replace the Commissioner Administration, and on the same day, Nedić wrote to Danckelmann agreeing to become the Prime Minister of the new government on the basis of five conditions and some additional concessions. Two days later, the German authorities installed Nedić and his government in power. Real power resided with the German occupiers rather than under Nedić's government. There is no written record of whether Danckelmann accepted Nedić's conditions, but he did make some of the requested concessions, including allowing the use of Serbian national and state emblems by the Nedić government.
Nedić was motivated by concerns about the future of the Serbian people in Hitler's New Order. He wanted to provide a refuge for Serbs who were being persecuted in other regions of occupied Yugoslavia, and to rescue them from Communism. The Nedić government ostensibly had a policy of keeping Serbia quiet to prevent Serbian blood from being spilled. The regime carried out German demands faithfully, aiming to secure place for Serbia in the New European Order created by the Nazis.
The propaganda used by the Nedić regime labeled Nedić as the "father of Serbia", who was rebuilding Serbia and who had accepted his role in order to save the nation. Institutions that were formed by the Nedić government were similar to those in Nazi Germany, while documents signed by Milan Nedić used racist terminology that was taken from national-socialist ideology. The propaganda glorified the Serbian "race", accepting its "aryanhood", and determined what should be Serbian "living space". It urged the youth to follow Nedić in the building of the New Order in Serbia and Europe.
Nedić aimed to assure the public that the war was over for Serbia in April 1941. He perceived his time as being "after the war", i.e. as a time of peace, progress and serenity. Nedić claimed that all deeds of his government were enabled by the occupants, to whom people should be grateful for secured life and "honorable place of associates in the building of the new World". The Serbian collaborationist government, however, failed to win the favour of Serbs, who largely associated with the two key opposition groups, the Serb nationalist Chetniks and the communist Yugoslav Partisans. With the deteriorating situation in the territory, the civil government was allowed to raise its own Serbian State Guard, the fascist ZBOR party formed the Serbian Volunteer Corps, and White Russian émigrés in the region formed the Russian Corps. Some of these forces took part in Operation Užice, a major Axis offensive which saw the Partisans driven out of the territory and largely into the Italian protectorate of Montenegro.
The puppet governments established by the Germans were little more than subsidiary organs of the German occupation authorities, looking after some of the administration of the territory and sharing the blame for the brutal rule of the Germans. They had no international standing, even within the Axis. Their powers, quite limited from the beginning, were further reduced over time, which was frustrating and difficult for Nedić in particular. Despite the ambitions of the Nedić government to establish an independent state, the area remained subordinated to the German military authorities until the end of its existence.
In late August, Aćimović stepped down and was replaced by Milan Nedić, who hoped that his collaboration would save what was left of Serbia and avoid total destruction by Nazi reprisals, he personally kept in contact with Yugoslavia's exiled King Peter, assuring the King that he was not another Pavelić (the leader of the Croatian Ustaše), and Nedić's defenders claimed he was like Philippe Pétain of Vichy France (who was claimed to have defended the French people while accepting the occupation), and denied that he was leading a weak Quisling regime.
The real power rested with the administration's Military Commanders, who controlled both the German armed forces and Serb collaborationist forces. In 1941, the administration's Military Commander, Franz Böhme, responded to guerrilla attacks on German forces by carrying out the German policy towards partisans that 100 people would be killed for each German killed and 50 people killed for each wounded German. The first set of reprisals were the massacres in Kragujevac and in Kraljevo by the Wehrmacht. These proved to be counterproductive to the German forces in the aftermath, as it ruined any possibility of gaining any substantial numbers of Serbs to support the collaborationist regime of Nedić. Additionally, it was discovered that in Kraljevo, a Serbian workforce group which was building airplanes for the Axis forces had been among the victims. The massacres caused Nedić to urge that the arbitrary shooting of Serbs be stopped, Böhme agreed and ordered a halt to the executions until further notice.
Conflicts with the resistance
The following months saw the formation of resistance to the administration by Chetnik and Partisan groups, with the Partisans establishing control over the region surrounding Užice.
During the summer of 1941, two resistance factions were formed: Serb royalist Chetniks, and communist and unionist Partisans. They began small-scale operations and diversions against local loyalist forces and German military. The uprising became a serious concern for the Germans as most of their forces were deployed to Russia; only three divisions of which were in the country.
By late 1941, with each attack by Chetniks and Partisans, brought more reprisal massacres being committed by the German armed forces against Serbs. The largest Chetnik opposition group led by Colonel Dragoljub "Draža" Mihailović decided that it was in the best interests of Serbs to temporarily shut down operations against the Germans until the possibility of decisively beating the German armed forces looked possible. Mihailović justified this by saying "When it is all over and, with God's help, I was preserved to continue the struggle, I resolved that I would never again bring such misery on the country unless it could result in total liberation". Mihailović then reluctantly decided to allow some Chetniks to join Nedić's regime to launch attacks against Tito's Partisans. Mihailović saw as the main threat to Chetniks and, in his view, Serbs, as the Partisans who refused to back down fighting, which would almost certainly result in more German reprisal massacres of Serbs. With arms provided by the Germans, those Chetniks who joined Nedić's collaborationist armed forces, so they could pursue their civil war against the Partisans without fear of attack by the Germans, whom they intended to later turn against. This resulted in an increase of recruits to the regime's armed forces. One of Mihailović's closest personal friends and collaborators, Pavle Đurišić, simultaneously held a command for Nedić, and in 1943 tried to exterminate the Muslims and pro-Partisans of the Sandžak region. The massacres he carried out were compared to the Croatian Ustashe and Muslim massacres of Serbs in the Independent State of Croatia in 1941.
By the fall of 1944, the Eastern Front had nearly reached the territory. Most of Serbia was liberated from the Germans over the course of the Belgrade Offensive carried out by the Red Army, Yugoslav Partisans and Bulgarian forces. With the onset of the Belgrade Offensive by the Red Army and the Yugoslav Partisans, the administration was evacuated from Serbia to Vienna in October 1944.
On the day that the Axis invaded Yugoslavia, Adolf Hitler issued instructions for the dismemberment of the country, entitled the "Temporary Guidelines for Division of Yugoslavia". These instructions directed that what Hitler considered to be Alt Serbien (Old Serbia, meaning the territory of the Kingdom of Serbia prior to the Balkan Wars), would be placed under German occupation. This decision reflected the anger Hitler felt against Serbs, who he saw as the main instigators of the Belgrade military coup of 27 March 1941 which brought down the Yugoslav government that had acceded to the Tripartite Pact two days earlier. The general approach Hitler took in these instructions was to ensure that Serbia was punished by being reduced to a "rump".
After discussions with both the Romanian and Hungarian governments, Hitler decided that the Vojvodina region would be divided by the river Tisa, with the eastern portion (the Serbian Banat) being placed under German occupation along with "Old Serbia". The portion of Vojvodina west of the Tisa was occupied and soon annexed by the Hungarians. Romanian-Hungarian rivalry was not the only reason for retaining the Banat under German occupation, as it also contained some 120,000 ethnic Germans (or Volksdeutsche) and was a valuable economic region. In addition to the Tisa, the other borders of the Banat were the Danube to the south, and the post-World War I Yugoslav-Romanian and Yugoslav-Hungarian borders in the north and east.
An area of eastern Syrmia was initially included in the occupied territory for military and economic reasons, especially given Belgrade's airport and radio station were located there. The number of Volksdeutsche living in the area along with its role in providing food for Belgrade were also factors in the original decision. During this early period the border between the occupied territory and the NDH ran between the villages of Slankamen on the Danube and Boljevci on the Sava. However, after pressure from the NDH supported by the German ambassador to Zagreb, Siegfried Kasche it was gradually transferred to NDH control with the approval of the Military Commander in Serbia, and became a formal part of the NDH on 10 October 1941, forming the Zemun and Stara Pazova districts of the Vuka County of the NDH. The local Volksdeutsche soon asked for the area to be returned to German control, but this did not occur. As a result of the transfer of this region, the borders of the NDH then reached to the outskirts of Belgrade.
Much of the western border between the occupied territory and the NDH had been approved by the Germans and announced by Ante Pavelić on 7 June 1941. However, this approved border only followed the Drina downstream as far as Bajina Bašta, and beyond this point the border had not been finalised. On 5 July 1941 this border was fixed as continuing to follow the Drina until the confluence with the Brusnica tributary east of the village of Zemlica, then east of the Drina following the pre-World War I Bosnia and Herzegovina–Serbia border.
The Sandžak region was initially divided between the Germans in the north and the Italians in the south using an extension of the so-called "Vienna Line" which divided Yugoslavia into German and Italians zones of influence. The border of the occupied territory through the Sandžak was modified several times in quick succession during April and May 1941, eventually settling on the general line of Priboj–Nova Varoš–Sjenica–Novi Pazar, although the towns of Rudo, Priboj, Nova Varoš, Sjenica and Duga Poljana were on the Italian-occupied Montenegrin side of the border. The town of Novi Pazar remained in German hands. The NDH government was unhappy with these arrangements, as they wanted to annex the Sandžak to the NDH and considered it would be easier for them to achieve this if the Germans occupied a larger portion of the region. 
The line between the German occupation territory and Italian Albania in the Kosovo region was the cause of a significant clash of interests, mainly due to the important lead and zinc mines at Trepča and the key railway line Kosovska Mitrovica–Pristina–Uroševac–Kačanik–Skopje. Ultimately the Germans prevailed, with the "Vienna Line" extending from Novi Pazar in the Sandžak through Kosovska Mitrovica and Pristina, along the railway between Pristina and Uroševac and then towards Tetovo in modern-day Macedonia before turning northeast to meet Bulgarian-annexed territory near Orlova Čuka. The Kosovska Mitrovica, Vučitrn and Lab districts, along with part of the Gračanica district were all part of the German occupied territory. This territory included a number of other important mines, including the lead mine at Belo Brdo, an asbestos mine near Jagnjenica and a magnesite mine at Dubovac near Vučitrn.
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The territory of Serbia was the only area of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in which the Germans imposed a military government of occupation, largely due to the key transport routes and important resources located in the territory. Despite prior agreement with the Italians that they would establish an 'independent Serbia', Serbia in fact had a puppet government, Germany accorded it no status in international law except that of a fully occupied country, and it did not enjoy formal diplomatic status with the Axis powers and their satellites as the Independent State of Croatia did. The occupation arrangements underwent a series of changes between April 1941 and 1944, however throughout the German occupation, the military commander in Serbia was the head of the occupation regime. This position underwent a number of title changes during the occupation. The day-to-day administration of the occupation was conducted by the chief of the military administration branch responsible to the military commander in Serbia. The puppet governments established by the Germans were responsible to the chief of military administration, although multiple and often parallel chains of German command and control meant that the puppet government was responsible to different German functionaries for different aspects of the occupation regime, such as the special plenipotentiary for economic affairs and the Higher SS and Police Leader. For example, the plenipotentiary for economic affairs, Franz Neuhausen, who was Göring's personal representative in the occupied territory, was directly responsible to the Reichsmarshall for aspects of the German Four Year Plan, and had complete control over the Serbian economy.
The territory was administered on a day-to-day basis by the Military Administration in Serbia (German: Militärverwaltung in Serbien). With the economic branch, the Military Administration initially formed one of the two staff branches responsible to the Military Commander in Serbia. In January 1942, with the appointment of a Higher SS and Police Leader in Serbia, a police branch was added. Whilst the heads of the economic and police branches of the staff were theoretically responsible to the Military Commander in Serbia, in practice they were responsible directly to their respective chiefs in Berlin. This created significant rivalry and confusion between the staff branches, but also created overwhelming difficulties for the Nedić puppet government that was responsible to the chief of military administration, who himself had little control or influence with the chiefs of the other staff branches.
The officers serving as military commander of the territory were as follows:
|Military Commander in Serbia|
|Helmuth Förster||20 April – 9 June 1941|
|Ludwig von Schröder||9 June – 18 July 1941|
|Heinrich Danckelmann||27 July – 19 September 1941|
|Plenipotentiary Commanding General in Serbia|
|Franz Böhme||19 September – 6 December 1941|
|Paul Bader||6 December 1941 – 2 February 1942|
|Commanding General and Military Commander in Serbia|
|Paul Bader||2 February 1942 – 26 August 1943|
|Commander, Southeast Europe|
|Hans Felber||26 August 1943 – 20 October 1944|
The Germans created four military area commands (German: Feldkommandanturen) within the occupied territory, with each area command further divided into one or more district commands (German: Kreiskommandanturen), and about one hundred towns and localities had town or post commands (German: Platzkommandanturen or Ortskommandanturen) that were under the control of the district commands. Each area or district command had its own military, administrative, economic, police and other staff depending on local requirements, which allowed the chief of the Military Administration to implement German decrees and policies throughout the occupied territory.
In the Banat, an area command (No. 610) was initially established at Pančevo, with a district command (No. 823) at Veliki Bečkerek. The Pančevo area command was subsequently moved to Kraljevo, but the district command at Veliki Bečkerek remained in place, becoming an independent district command reporting directly to the Military Commander.
From December 1941 until the German withdrawal, the German area commands were located in Belgrade, Niš, Šabac and Kraljevo, with district commands as follows:
- Area Command No. 599 Belgrade: District Command No. 378 in Požarevac.
- Area Command No. 809 Niš: District Commands No. 857 in Zaječar and No. 867 in Leskovac.
- Area Command No. 816 Šabac: District Command No. 861 in Valjevo.
- Area Command No. 610 Kraljevo: District Commands No. 832 in Kragujevac, No. 833 in Kruševac, No. 834 in Ćuprija, No. 838 in Kosovska Mitrovica, and No. 847 in Užice.
The German area and district commanders directed and supervised the corresponding representative of the Serbian puppet government.
Serbian puppet governments
Two puppet governments were appointed by the German Military Commander in Serbia. The first, known as the Commissioner Administration, was established on 30 April 1941. Its president was Milan Aćimović. The second, known as the Government of National Salvation, replaced the Commissioner Administration on 29 August 1941. The Government of National Salvation, led by Milan Nedić, operated until it was evacuated to Austria with the commencement of the German withdrawal from Belgrade in early October 1944.
Administration of the Banat
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Administration of northern Kosovo
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Axis occupation forces
Immediately following the capitulation of Yugoslavia, the Germans withdrew all combat-capable formations from the occupied territory, as they were required to participate in Operation Barbarossa. The Military Commander in Serbia was allocated four 'local defence' (German: Landesschützen) battalions, one to each area command. A small police detachment was also allocated to the territory.
The initial occupation garrison of the territory, under the control of the Higher Command for Special Purposes LXV commanded by General of Artillery Paul Bader, consisted of three under-strength Wehrmacht infantry divisions, the 704th, 714th and 717th. The Higher Command for Special Purposes LXV was not under the command of the Military Commander in Serbia, and also commanded the 718th Infantry Division operating in adjacent areas of the Independent State of Croatia. These divisions had no motorised transport, were poorly armed and included many overage soldiers.
Due to the serious nature of the uprising that started in July 1941, the Germans began sending combat troops back to the territory, starting in September with the 125th Infantry Regiment supported by additional artillery deployed from Greece, and by the end of the month the 342nd Infantry Division began arriving from occupied France. A detachment of the 100th Tank Brigade was also sent to the territory. These troops were used against the resistance in the north-west of the territory, which they pacified by the end of October. Due to stronger resistance in the south-west, the 113th Infantry Division arrived from the Eastern Front in November and this part of the territory was also pacified by early December 1941.
Following the suppression of the uprising, the Germans again withdrew the combat formations from the territory, leaving behind only the weaker garrison divisions. In January 1942, the 113th Infantry Division returned to the Eastern Front, and the 342nd Infantry Division deployed to the NDH to fight the Partisans. To secure the railroads, highways and other infrastructure, the Germans began to make use of Bulgarian occupation troops in large areas of the occupied territory, although these troops were under German command and control. This occurred in three phases, with the Bulgarian 1st Occupation Corps consisting of three divisions moving into the occupied territory on 31 December 1941. This corps was initially responsible for about 40% of the territory (excluding the Banat), bounded by the Ibar river in the west between Kosovska Mitrovica and Kraljevo, the West Morava river between Kraljevo and Čačak, and then a line running roughly east from Čačak through Kragujevac to the border with Bulgaria. They were therefore responsible for large sections of the Belgrade–Niš–Sofia and Niš–Skopje railway lines, as well as the main Belgrade–Niš–Skopje highway.
In January 1943, the Bulgarian area was expanded westwards to include all areas west of the Ibar river and south of a line running roughly west from Čačak to the border with occupied Montenegro and the NDH. This released the 7th SS Volunteer Mountain Division Prinz Eugen, which had been garrisoning this area over the winter, to deploy into the NDH and take part in Operation Weiss against the Partisans. Many members of the Volksdeutsche (ethnic German minority) from Serbia and the Banat were serving in the 7th SS Volunteer Mountain Division Prinz Eugen. This division was responsible for war crimes committed against the peoples of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
In July 1943, the Bulgarian occupation zone expanded northwards, with a fourth division, the 25th Division taking over from the 297th Infantry Division in the rest of the territory (excluding the Banat) that did not share a border with the NDH. From this point, German forces only directly occupied the immediate area of Belgrade, the northwest region of the territory that shared a border with the NDH, and the Banat.
Aside from the Wehrmacht, which was the dominant Axis military in the territory, and (from January 1942) the Bulgarian armed forces, the Germans relied on local collaborationist formations for the maintenance of order.Local movements were formed nominally as subordinate to the local puppet government, but remained under direct German control throughout the war. The primary collaborationist formation was the Serbian State Guard, which functioned as the "regular army" of the Government of National Salvation of General Milan Nedić (hence their nickname, Nedićevci). By October 1941 German-equipped Serbian forces had, under supervision, become increasingly effective against the resistance.
In addition to the Serbian State Guard regulars, there were three officially organised German auxiliary armed groups formed during the German occupation. These were the Serbian Volunteer Corps, the Russian Corps, and the small Auxiliary Police Troop composed of Russian Volksdeutsche. The Germans also used two other armed groups as auxiliaries, the Chetnik detachments of Kosta Pećanac which started collaborating with the Germans from the time of the Nedić government's appointment in August 1941, and later the 'legalised' Chetnik detachments of Draža Mihailović. Some of these organizations wore the uniform of the Royal Yugoslav Army as well as helmets and uniforms purchased from Italy, while others used uniforms and equipment from Germany.
Foremost among these was the Serbian Volunteer Corps, largely composed of paramilitaries and supporters of the fascist Yugoslav National Movement (ZBOR) of Dimitrije Ljotić (hence the nickname Ljotićevci). Founded in 1941, the formation was initially called "Serbian Volunteer Command", but was reorganized in 1943 and renamed the "Serbian Volunteer Corps", with Kosta Mušicki as the operational leader. At the end of 1944, the Corps and its German liaison staff were transferred to the Waffen-SS as the Serbian SS Corps and comprised a staff from four regiments each with three battalions and a training battalion. The Russian Corps was founded on 12 September 1941 by white Russian emigres, and remained active in Serbia until 1944.
Recruits to the collaborationist forces increased in numbers following joining of Chetnik groups loyal to Kosta Pećanac, the Pećanac Chetniks. By their own postwar account, these Chetniks joined with the intention to destroy Tito's Partisans, rather than supporting Nedić and the German occupation forces, whom they later intended to turn against.
In late 1941, the main Chetnik movement of Draža Mihailović ("Yugoslav Army in the Fatherland") was increasingly coming to an understanding with Nedić's government. After being dispersed following conflicts with Partisan and German forces during the First Enemy Offensive, Chetnik troops in the area came to an understanding with Nedić. As "legalized" Chetnik formations, they collaborated with the quisling regime in Belgrade, while nominally remaining part of the Mihailović Chetniks. As military conditions in Serbia deteriorated, Nedić increasingly cooperated with Chetnik leader Draža Mihailović. Over the course of 1944 Chetniks assassinated two high-ranking Serbian military officials who had obstructed their work. Brigadier-general Miloš Masalović was murdered in March, while rival Chetnik leader Kosta Pećanac was killed in June.
At the beginning of the occupation, the Military Commander in Serbia was provided with a Security Police Special Employment Squad (German: Sicherheitspolizei Einsatzgruppen) consisting of detachments of Gestapo, criminal police and the SD or Security Service (German: Sicherheitsdienst). Initially commanded by SS and Police Leader (German: SS und Polizeiführer) Standartenführer und Oberst der Polizei Wilhelm Fuchs, this group was technically under the control of the chief of the Military Administration in Serbia, Harald Turner, but in practice reported direct to Berlin. In January 1942, the status of the police organisation was raised by the appointment of a Higher SS and Police Leader (German: Höhere SS und Polizeiführer) Obergruppenführer und Generalleutnant der SS August Meyszner. Meyszner was replaced in April 1944 by Generalleutnant der SS Hermann Behrends.
The population of the occupied territory was approximately 3,810,000, composed primarily of Serbs (up to 3,000,000) and Germans (around 500,000). Other nationalities of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia have been mostly separated from Serbia and included within their respective ethnic states – e.g. the Croats, Bulgarians, Albanians, Hungarians, etc. Most of the Serbs however ended up outside the Nazi Serbian state, as they were forced to join other states.
By the summer of 1942, is estimated that around 400,000 Serbs had been expelled or had fled from others parts of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, and were living in the occupied territory.
The autonomous area of the Banat was a multi-ethnic area with a total population of 640,000, of which 280,000 were Serbs, 130,000 were Germans, 90,000 were Hungarians, 65,000 Romanians, 15,000 Slovaks and 60,000 of other ethnicities.
Of the 16,700 Jewish people in Serbia and the Banat, 15,000 were killed. In total, it is estimated that approximately 80,000 people were killed from 1941 to 1944 in concentration camps in Nedić's Serbia. Harald Turner, the chief of German military occupation forces in Serbia, declared in August 1942, that the "Jewish question" in Serbia had been "liquidated" and that Serbia was the first country in Europe to be Judenfrei; free of Jews.
Banking and currency
After the collapse of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, the National Bank of Yugoslavia was forced into liquidation on 29 May 1941, and two days later a decree was issued by the Military Commander in Serbia creating the Serbian National Bank. The new bank was under the direct control of Franz Neuhausen, the plenipotentiary general for economic affairs, who appointed the governor and board members of the bank, as well as a German commissioner who represented Neuhausen at the bank and had to approve all important transactions. The new bank introduced the Serbian dinar as the only legal currency and called in all Yugoslav dinars for exchange.
The traditional Obrenović coat of arms was found on bills and coins minus the royal crown.
German exploitation of the economy
Immediately after the capitulation of Yugoslavia, the Germans confiscated all the assets of the defeated Yugoslav army, including about 2 billion dinars in the occupied territory of Serbia. It also seized all usable raw materials and used occupation currency to purchase goods available in the territory. It then placed under its control all useful military production assets in the country, and although it operated some armament, ammunition and aircraft production factories in situ for a short period of time, after the July 1941 uprising, it dismantled all of them and relocated them outside the territory.
Next, the occupation authorities assumed control of all transportation and communication systems, including riverine transport on the Danube. And finally, it took control of all significant mining, industrial and financial enterprises in the territory that were not already under Axis control prior to the invasion.
In order to coordinate and ensure maximum exploitation of the Serbian economy, the Germans appointed Franz Neuhausen, who was effectively the economic dictator in the territory. Initially the Plenipotentiary General for Economic Affairs in Serbia, he soon became the Plenipotentiary for the Four Year Plan under Göring, Plenipotentiary for Metal Ores Production in South-East Europe, and Plenipotentiary for Labour in Serbia. From October 1943, he became the Chief of Military Administration in Serbia, responsible for the administration of all aspects of the entire territory. Ultimately, he had full control of the Serbian economy and finances, and fully controlled the Serbian National Bank, in order to use all parts of the Serbian economy to support the German war effort.
As part of this, the Germans imposed huge occupation costs on the Serbian territory from the outset, including amounts required to run the military administration of the territory as determined by the Wehrmacht, and an additional annual contribution to the Reich set by the Military Economic and Armaments Office. The occupation costs were paid by the Serbian Ministry of Finance on a monthly basis into a special account with the Serbian National Bank.
Over the entire period of the occupation, the Serbian puppet governments paid the Germans about 33,248 million dinars in occupation costs. Occupation costs amounted to about 40% of the current national income of the territory by mid-1944.
With the dissolution of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, many newspapers went out of print while new papers were formed. Soon after the occupation began, the German occupation authorities issued orders requiring the registration of all printing equipment and restrictions on what could be published. Only those that had been registered and approved by the German authorities could edit such publications. On 16 May 1941 the first new daily, Novo vreme (New Times), was formed. The weekly Naša borba (Our Struggle) was formed by the fascist ZBOR party in 1941, its title echoing Hitler's Mein Kampf (My Struggle). The regime itself released the Službene novine (Official Gazette) which attempted to continue the tradition of the official paper of the same name which was released in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.
The state of film in Serbia was somewhat improved compared to the situation in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. During that time, the number of cinemas in Belgrade was increased to 21, with a daily attendance of between 12,000 and 15,000 people. The two most popular films were 1943's Nevinost bez zaštite and Golden City which were watched by 62,000 and 108,000 respectively.
The German occupation authorities issued special orders regulating the opening of theatres and other places of entertainment which excluded Jews. The Serbian National Theatre in Belgrade remained open during this time. Works performed during this period included La bohème, The Marriage of Figaro, Der Freischütz, Tosca, Dva cvancika and Nesuđeni zetovi.
Racial laws were introduced in all occupied territories with immediate effects on Jews and Roma people, as well as causing the imprisonment of those opposed to Nazism. Several concentration camps were formed in Serbia and at the 1942 Anti-Freemason Exhibition in Belgrade the city was pronounced to be free of Jews (Judenfrei). On 1 April 1942, a Serbian Gestapo was formed. It is estimated that approximately 80,000 people were killed from 1941 to 1944 in the German-run concentration camps in Nedić's Serbia. Serbia was proclaimed one of the Judenfrei (free of Jews) countries in Europe. Approximately 14,500 Serbian Jews – 90 percent of Serbia's Jewish population of 16,000 – were murdered in World War II.
Collaborationist armed formations forces were involved, either directly or indirectly, in the mass killings of Jews, Roma and those Serbs who sided with any anti-German resistance or were suspects of being a member of such. These forces were also responsible for the killings of many Croats and Muslims; however, some Croats who took refuge in Nedić's Serbia were not discriminated against. After the war, the Serbian involvement in many of these events and the issue of Serbian collaboration were subject to historical revisionism by Serbian leaders.
The following were the concentration camps established in the occupied territory:
- Sajmište concentration camp (although located on the outskirts of Belgrade, the camp was situated on the territory of the Independent State of Croatia)
- Banjica concentration camp (Belgrade)
- Crveni krst concentration camp (Niš)
- Topovske Šupe (Belgrade)
- Dulag 183 (Šabac)
The most prominent Serbian collaborators died before they could be tried. Dimitrije Ljotić died in a car accident in Slovenia in April 1945, while Milan Aćimović was killed by Yugoslav Partisans during the Battle of Zelengora. Milan Nedić was extradited to Yugoslavia in early 1946 but died in prison before facing trial. After their arrival in Belgrade the Partisans executed Radoslav Veselinović, Dušan Đorđević, Momčilo Janković, Čedomir Marjanović and Jovan Mijušković on 27 November 1944. A group of ministers in the Nedić government were tried together as part of the same process led against Chetnik leader Draža Mihailović. Kosta Mušicki, Tanasije Dinić, Velibor Jonić, Dragomir Jovanović, and Đura Dokić were subsequently executed on 17 July 1946.
Some of the members of government fled abroad and were never brought to trial. These included Lazo M. Kostić who moved to the United States of America, Borivoje Jonić who went to France, and Miodrag Damjanović who moved to Germany.
General Franz Böhme committed suicide before being tried at the Hostages Trial for crimes committed in Serbia. Harald Turner was executed in Belgrade on 9 March 1947. Heinrich Danckelmann and Franz Neuhausen were tried together in October 1947. Danckelmann was subsequently executed while Neuhausen was sentenced to twenty years imprisonment.
In 2008, the non-parliamentary Serbian Liberal Party launched a proposal to the County Court in Belgrade to rehabilitate the Serbian leader Milan Nedić. This has met no support from any political party and also met opposition from the Jewish community of Serbia.
- Lemkin 2008, p. 248.
- Kosovo is the subject of a territorial dispute between the Republic of Serbia and the Republic of Kosovo. The latter declared independence on 17 February 2008, but Serbia continues to claim it as part of its own sovereign territory. Kosovo's independence has been recognised by 106 out of 193 United Nations member states.
- Tomasevich 2001, pp. 175-177.
- Hehn 1971, p. 350, official name of the occupied territory.
- Tomasevich 2001, pp. 63–64.
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- Tomasevich 2001, pp. 65-66.
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- Milazzo 1975, pp. 16-17.
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- Wolff 1974, pp. 203-204.
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- Browning 2004, p. 344.
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- Bailey 1980, p. 81.
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- Kroener 2000, pp. 40-41.
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- Janjetović 2012, pp. 101–102.
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- Janjetović 2012, pp. 103–104.
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- Tomasevich 2001, p. 74.
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|Timeline of Yugoslav statehood|
Kingdom of Dalmatia
Banat, Bačka and Baranja
Free State of Fiume
Fascist Italy and
|Democratic Federal Yugoslavia
Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia
Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia
Consisted of the
Socialist Republics of
| Republic of Slovenia
Independent State of Croatia
| Republic of Croatiab
Croatian War of Independence
|Bosnia|| Bosnia and Herzegovinac
|Vojvodina||Part of the Délvidék region of Hungary||Autonomous Banatd
(part of the German
Territory of the
|Federal Republic of Yugoslavia
Republic of Kosova (1990–2000)
|State Union of Serbia and Montenegro||Republic of Serbia|| Republic of Serbia
Includes the autonomous province of Vojvodina
|Serbia||Kingdom of Serbia
|Territory of the Military Commander in Serbia
|Kosovo||Part of the Kingdom of Serbia
|Mostly annexed by Albania
along with western Macedonia and south-eastern Montenegro
|Republic of Kosovog|
|Metohija||Kingdom of Montenegro
Metohija controlled by Austria-Hungary 1915–1918
|Macedonia||Part of the Kingdom of Serbia
|Annexed by the Kingdom of Bulgaria
|Republic of Macedoniah|